Jake Witzenfeld’s look at the lives of gay Palestinians made its bow at Sheffield last year. It went on to screen at Los Angeles, Cleveland, Nashville, QDoc, Seattle Jewish, Other Israel, Chicago Palestine, Seret London, and Workers Unite, among other fests. The film screens for free as part of the museum’s First Saturdays series.
The three main subjects of Witzenfeld’s observational portrait are friends who live in Tel Aviv: Activist Khader, a Palestinian Israeli citizen who is in a relationship with a Jewish Israeli; Fadi, who questions whether he has the right to call himself a Palestinian, and vows to never date an Israeli – but then falls for a Zionist soldier; and Naeem, who struggles to come out to his family back in their village home. Collectively – and working with others who receive far less screentime here – as Qambuta, they create would-be viral videos exploring queer Palestinian identity. While the video shoots provide Witzenfeld with some creative visuals, this thread feels the least developed – aside from one brief scene where the three men read snarky comments their first video receives, there seems to be no impact at all from this work either on their lives or those of other Palestinian queers. Far more successful are scenes like the opening, which finds Khader relating a story to a group of Jews at a Tel Aviv LGBT center about the West’s misconceptions of sad, persecuted gay Palestinians living in the shadows – his family is wonderfully supportive, as evidenced by a later episode which finds them providing emotional support to Naeem, who fears his own father’s disapproval. While this intimate film makes no pretense of representing the whole of Palestinian gay life, given its deliberately constrained focus on three men, it does offer a refreshing consideration of the intersection of the various identities – sexual, national, and political – that play out within the complex background of the Middle East, even for this cohort’s relatively free and largely secular lives.